This fantastic ‘photo was taken by Natasha at Coffee Rings Everywhere. When I saw it, I mentioned how intriguing that hat was. What was it doing there? Natasha challenged me to write a story about the ‘photo. This is the story that ‘photo inspired. Thanks, Natasha :-)
Anish would have known him anywhere, even though it had been ten years. He’d had no idea that Vinay was back in Hyderabad, and that was going to be a problem. A big problem. Anish had stayed completely out of trouble for a long time now. His parents had even found someone for him. Baruni was a legal aide, and really pretty, too. They’d seen each other a few times and found they had a lot in common. There was a very good chance this marriage would happen, and would work out. And now this! Hopefully, Vinay wouldn’t look out of the costume shop window and notice him.
Too late! Vinay raised his hand in greeting and in two steps, was out the door of the shop, holding a green hat. ‘Now, this is the sort of coincidence you only read about in books,’ he said, with that heartless smile of his. He twirled the hat a little in his hand and added, ‘I was just getting this for my little cousin, who’s going to a fancy dress party next week. And who should I see right here? It’s a lucky day for me.’
‘How are you, Vinay?’ Anish asked. As though he had any choice but to talk to this man.
‘I’ve only just come back to Hyderabad, so I am still getting settled. I hear you’re doing very well, though. Nice job in a bank, and I’m told you are getting married, too.’
‘Well, it hasn’t all been arranged yet.’
‘But I’m sure it’ll all go very well for you. I hope you won’t forget your old friend Vinay when you have that nice big house and a new car.’
This was exactly what Anish had been afraid of. Vinay was the only one who knew what had happened ten years ago. Even then he hadn’t been trustworthy, and he certainly wouldn’t be now. He might as well find out what Vinay wanted. Not to take his hint would be worse.
‘Of course I won’t forget you,’ he said.
‘That’s good. Because I could use your help.’
Here it came. ‘With what?’
‘Let’s go find a place to have a coffee and we’ll discuss it.’
Ten minutes later, Anish decided there’d been enough small talk. ‘So what sort of help do you need?’ he asked.
Vinay took a sip of his coffee and looked over the rim of his cup. ‘Nothing much. It’s just I could use a friend in the banking business. Someone who could help me make some financial arrangements.’
Anish knew where this would be headed. He’d heard lots of stories about such ‘arrangements,’ which amounted to embezzlement and money-laundering. Not being naïve, he knew that it went on, and probably more often than most people guessed. But he didn’t want to be a part of it. ‘I don’t know, Vinay,’ he said. ‘I come up for promotion next month. Any questions about my work, and there won’t be a chance of it.’
Vinay kept his gaze on Anish. ‘Do you think there will be a promotion if anyone finds out about that road accident?’
Anish lowered his voice. ‘I wasn’t even driving that night! None of it was my fault.’
‘But Indra’s not alive any more to admit that he was driving. So who can say exactly what happened?’
‘You know I did not kill that girl. I was a passenger. We both were.’
‘Will that matter to – what is her name? – Baruni and her family? Or to your bank? The minute anyone finds out you were there, you’ll be finished.’
The two young men were quiet for a moment. Vinay finished his coffee, a look of quiet triumph on his face. Anish finally said, ‘I will have to think about this. Give me a week.’
‘Fair enough. But I think you’ll agree it’s a good arrangement for both of us.’
Anish nodded and they stood up to go. Vinay reached behind him to pick up the hat as they left. Just outside the coffee bar, Anish said, ‘I will remember what you said. No reason we can’t make some sort of agreement.’
Vinay nodded. ‘I thought you might see it that way.’
‘Let’s forget all this for now. There’s a bread shop down that street. They make wonderful stuff. I’m going to just get a few things. You should come along.’
‘Why not?’ Vinay matched his stride to Anish’s and they turned down the narrow street.
As they did, Anish glanced quickly around; there was nobody there. That made sense, since it was getting too hot to be out and about. He let Vinay get two steps ahead of him, then picked up a heavy rock he’d seen on the ground. ‘I’m sorry, Vinay,’ he murmured as he struck him in the head. Vinay fell instantly, and the hat he’d been holding rolled back into the street they’d just left. His cousin would have to find something else to wear to the fancy-dress party.
‘Did you see that?’ Rathi hissed, tugging at her sister’s sleeve.
‘What?’ Kaira asked, with an annoyed expression. She was eager to get home for lunch.
‘Look!’ Rathi pointed. The two sisters watched as the man in the narrow lane dropped the rock and ran.
‘What’s going on?’ Ganika asked. Rathi and Kaira had been her best friends for as long as she could remember. Rathi said nothing, just pointed again.
‘That’s a dead man!’ Ganika gasped.
Now Kaira was afraid. ‘We need to go! Now!’
‘We’ll have to tell mummy,’ Rathi insisted.
‘We will. We need to tell the police, too.’
‘Do you think they’ll listen to us?’
‘We saw him. Of course they will. Come on!’
The three girls turned to rush home. Then Ganika noticed something on the ground and stopped. Her friends didn’t even bother to turn around and look at the hat lying in the street.